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First rise in university applications for three years

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Today (7 Feb), UCAS publishes analysis on applications for full-time undergraduate courses to UK universities and colleges made by the 15 January deadline, for courses starting in September 2019.

The statistics show the number of Chinese students choosing to study here is at the highest on record and that EU students have not been put off coming here to study, with numbers higher than last year.

A total of 561,420 people have applied to start a course in 2019, almost 2,500 more than at the equivalent point last year, and the first increase in three years.

Across the UK, the key findings are:

  • in England, a record 38.8 per cent of the 18 year old population have applied. This is a 1.4 percentage point increase on the application rate at this time in 2018. The increase in the application rate comes alongside a 1.8 per cent fall in the total number of 18 year olds in England, demonstrating a growing demand for higher education
  • in Northern Ireland, 46.8 per cent of 18 year olds have applied (down 0.7 percentage points)
  • in Scotland, the 18 year old application rate remains 32.5 per cent
  • in Wales, the application rate is 32.2 per cent (up 0.2 percentage points)

The gap between the most and least advantaged applicants has narrowed, as a record 23.2 per cent of young people classified as living in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK (POLAR4 quintile 1) have applied, up 1.3 percentage points. This compares to 53.5 per cent of those living in the most advantaged areas, a growth of 1 percentage point.

The total number of applicants across the UK stands at 453,840. This is a fall of less than 1 per cent, against a backdrop of an almost 2 per cent fall in the UK’s 18 year old population.

The number of applicants from the European Union has increased by one per cent, to 43,890. There are a record number of applicants from outside the EU – 63,690 have applied to study in the UK, an increase of 9 per cent.

The figures are based on analysis of undergraduate applications received at UCAS by the 15 January deadline. The deadline guarantees students their application will be considered by their chosen universities and colleges.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive said, ‘In this time of uncertainty, it’s welcome news to see more EU and international students wanting to come and study in the UK.

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‘Alongside this, demand from UK 18 years old students remains strong, despite the falling numbers of this age group in the population. The unexpected rise in the application rate from English 18 year olds, against the population trend, signals they still recognise the challenge and rewards of full-time undergraduate study.

‘However, interest in our apprenticeships hub and our insight research shows that almost a quarter of this age group are also considering an apprenticeship at the same time, and we can expect students to keep their options open.

‘In addition, it’s important to remember that students can still apply until 30 June, and afterwards directly to Clearing. And we know that mature students are more likely to apply later in the year.‘

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “It’s excellent to see that 18 year olds in England increasingly value a university education, with a record rate of applications. We are also pleased to see a record high in the percentage of young people from disadvantaged areas applying to university.

“However, we need to be more ambitious. To retain a competitive advantage on the global stage post-Brexit we must encourage and support more of the population through higher level study. 

“To drive social mobility and strengthen the economy the current post-18 education review should recommend policies to support access for anyone who has the potential to benefit from a university education. This should include better support for part-time learning and targeted maintenance grants for those most in need.

“It’s great news that international students want to come and study in the UK, however this data only provides a partial picture of what is going on – international postgraduates will not apply via the UCAS undergraduate route, for example. The UK is not keeping pace with other major study destinations such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada. We are calling for a new graduate visa that will make the UK more attractive to international students, allowing a wider range of employers, in all parts of the UK, to benefit from access to talented graduates from around the world.”

A Government spokesperson said: 

The UK has always been home to world-class universities and the increase in international students shown today cements our status as a global leader in the higher education sector.

International students, including those from the EU and China, bring huge cultural and economic benefits to the UK. The upcoming International Education Strategy will set out work to maintain and support further growth in the years to come.

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